The Shroud of Turin will be displayed for the first time in five years on Sunday. More than a million people have signed up to view one of Christianity's most celebrated relics.
Pilgrims believe the Shroud of Turin, measuring 4.3 meters (14 feet) in length, was the cloth used to bury Jesus Christ.
The most-talked about piece of linen in history, the shroud imprinted with an image of a man who appears to have been crucified, will go on display from April 19 until June 24 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in the north of Italy.
Public viewings of the cloth were last held in 2010.
"Many pilgrims who had already seen the shroud in past showings come back, even though some saw it just five years ago," Turin's archbishop Cesare Nosiglia said on Saturday. "That means there is a fundamental need in people's hearts to renew this incredible experience that they had the first time they saw it."
Nosiglia said people of all religious denominations will come to see the cloth, not just Christians.
"Even non-believers will come. It's an occasion that brings everybody together and aims to give a precise response to the violence in this world. It tells us that the way to build a fairer world is not violence, but love," he said.
Pope Francis will view the cloth on June 21 as he makes an overnight trip to the area of Turin, which will include private time with relatives.
Skeptics believe the shroud, displayed in a climate-controlled case, is nothing more than a Medieval forgery that scientists have carbon-dated to around 1300 years after Jesus Christ is believed to have been crucified.
Researchers have not, however, been able to explain how the image of a crucified man came to being on the cloth.
The Church does not officially maintain the shroud was used to wrap Christ's body or that the image on the linen was the product of a miracle.
However, the Church has given it special status, helping it sustain popularity as an object of worship.
"What counts the most is that this shroud, as you have seen, reflects in a clear and precise manner how the gospels describe the passion and death of Jesus," the prelate told reporters. "It is not a profession of faith because it is not an object of faith, nor of devotion, but it can help faith."
Piero Fassino, the mayor of the city better-known for the Juventus soccer club and being home to car manufacturer FIAT, said the cloth's significance was woven into the city's identity.
"Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims will come to our city of the course of 67 days," he said, adding the city "will welcome them with open arms."
Reservations are mandatory, but free, and viewers will only be afforded a few a minutes in front of the original cloth, although they will be able to view a specially made replica and a related exhibition.
Two million passed the shroud when it was last on display in 2010.
jlw/sms (AFP, AP)